I have so much to write about Poland so I am sorry if this blog is really long to read!
Ill start from the beginning. On Thursday we flew out of Dublin airport to Wroclaw, Poland. First we had to take a shuttle from the airport to the city center and then walk to our hostel. When traveling a lot of people don’t realize how much travel time is spent just on transportation. Even when you fly into a new city, you then have to figure out how to get to your hostel and then how to get around once you’re there. We arrived at our hostel which was located above a KFC with a strip club attached…then again it was only 6 euros a night to stay. No worries, the beds were completely fine!
We then went and got some food and hit up some local bars. The food and drinks there are so cheap compared to home. 1 Polish Zloty is equal to 0.26 US dollars. At first when you look at a menu you would think it was so expensive because one drink would be 7 PLN, but then you would realize that was actually $1.87. I tried the best vodka I have ever had in my life. It was hazelnut flavored and so smooth. After a sip it would leave an after taste of Nutella in your mouth. (If you know me, you know that I LOVE NUTELLA)
The next day we had to leave pretty early for our bus to Auschwitz. We woke up early, got some coffee and walked around Wroclaw. The main square was adorable. The building are all painted different colors with intricate designs. The main buildings were gorgeous. We walked up to the main river way where there were beautiful buildings and bridges lining the river.
Then we hoped on a taxi to the bus station. Took a 3 hour bus to a town called Katowice (Apparently there is no direct route from Wroclaw to the Auschwitz memorial) and then had to take a taxi to the memorial.
Now for the serious part….
We arrived at Auschwitz – Birkenau and signed up for a 3.5 hour guided tour. The entire bus ride over I could not stop shaking. I was terrified to even think about seeing the sight where millions were murdered. The entrance looked like a typical museum and it was a hustle and bustle to get your headset and check your bags. Once we crossed the doors into the camp, the mood changed completely.
We started the tour at Auschwitz and then went to Birkenau after a small break. The Auschwitz part was more like a museum. The first thing you see was a sign at the entrance in Polish. It translates to “work will set you free.” When the prisoners would enter the camp, a lot would ask how or when they would be let out. The guards used to point to the chimney and say “as ashes.”
I always would read about the Holocaust and concentration camps in school. I even went to the museum in Washington D.C, but this was the real thing. It was no longer a picture, the actual horror of the place was dead in front of your eyes. The entire tour and even most of that night after I had a giant pit in my stomach. My body felt dirty and I could not stop shivering.
Our tour guide walked us into a room, where we were not allowed to take photos out of respect. I understood once I entered. The walls were filed with piles of human hair behind glass enclosures. The Nazis would shave the heads of the dead victims after the gas chambers and use their hair for textiles. Piles and piles of hair strands, most still in braids and colored just lay limp. To even fathom each one of those strands as a person who perished was hard to do. I felt sick just touching the glass that held the hair back. You could even tell that most of the hair was from younger kids.
I will not go into detail about every part of the tour, but just the parts that affected me the most. We headed to the first gas chamber that was used for mass murder. When people would arrive on camp, only 20% of them would be considered “fit for work,” and they would live in awful conditions, working all day and night with no food. If lucky they would live for a couple months under these horrid conditions.
The other 80% were lied to. They were told that they had to strip and go in these rooms for a sanitization and then they would be given warm food.The gas chambers had fake shower heads installed but if you look closely there are tiny holes in the ceiling where the poison would come down. Once inside the “showers,” they would close the doors and just wait for the screams to die down. After the bodies were stripped of hair, clothes, gold teeth or anything of value, they were burned. Right next to the gas chamber was one of the furnaces from years ago that they would use to burn the bodies.
We had the chance to go inside the chamber and the furnace. The place felt haunted. Looking around I could hear the screams of millions of victims who were tricked into coming in. I couldn’t shut my eyes, without seeing the faces of horrified women and children seeing the gas coming from the ceiling and knowing that they were about to die.
After this we took a short break, which was much needed and then got on a bus to the Birkenau camp. The moment we pulled up, I recognized the front from history text books. A giant brick building was at the entrance and a railroad stretched down the camp. Most of the living quarters and gas cambers were burned down, but the outline of the structures eerily faded in the distance. I had a ringing in my ears that would not go. All you could picture was the train coming and knowing that 80% were to be led to the gas chamber right then and there.
We walked to the end of the tracks, were people have light candles and left roses in memory of the victims. A huge memorial was built at the end of the tracks. There was a quote in every language, based on countries that were victims of the Holocaust. Each language had their own stone. Many people left flowers, but a lot of people placed stones on top of the memorials. In the Jewish tradition it is common for loved ones to place stones on a grave. There are many reasons for this. I placed a stone on the one written in English. One meaning of the stone that I really like is that stones last for eternity, whereas flowers and other things will die off. Like the memory of loved ones and victims of the camps, the stones will never die.
The last thing we did was go into one of the living quarters. They were dimly light only though some windows on the ceiling. There were rows of 3 story wooden shelves. Each shelf had 4-6 people sleeping on it. If you were unlucky you would be sleeping on the concrete under the wooden panels. I touched one of the panels. The wood was hard and cold. I was shivering from the cold day already, but I could not imagine those conditions being a prisoner here. As we were walking down the train tracks back to the shuttle, the sun was beginning to set. I looked back at the barracks and could picture the millions of people scared as they tried to sleep on those horrible wood planks.
We then headed to the bus to Krakow, but the feeling of the tour stuck with me all night. I could not shake it. My stomach was in knots. I was angry. I felt like punching a wall. How could the world let something like this go on for years? The crazy part is that things like this are going on today. As we all know history repeats itself. I am glad that I had the opportunity to do this tour and witness it with my own eyes. At the same time, I have not slept for a couple days now. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I do not think about that day. A quote that wraps it up was at the beginning of the museum on a door. “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”
Now to get to a lighter mood. If you want to know more, just let me know, but I can honestly say it was one of the hardest days of my life.
We then headed to Krakow for the next two days. We got off the bus and took a taxi to our hostel. This time, there was no strip club attached. We were a couple blocks from the main square! We were hungry so we went to find traditional Polish food. We stopped into a restaurant where I got amazing pirogies! We then wanted dessert so we called over the waiter and asked for a desert menu. He replied, “I recite it for you…we have vodka, vodka, vodka and…vodka.” Immediately we laughed and ordered two vodkas. To my surprise it was the hazelnut vodka I had in Wroclaw. (NUTELLA) We did still want desert and wandered the streets until we found some apple cake and vanilla creme-brule.
The next day we woke up and went to the main square. The square had the main cathedral, stone floors and gorgeous colored buildings lining the square. Horse and buggies ran the exterior and outdoor cafes outlined the streets. We sat outside at one of the cafes and order breakfast. We got bloody marys and I got a brie and chive omelet with a bunch of sides. We got to eat our breakfast while overlooking the main square and horses.
After breakfast we headed into St. Mary’s Basilica. The inside was breathtaking. The details were so intricate. Sadly I had to pay to take pictures, so please enjoy the ones I was able to take. I was not going to pay, but then it was just too beautiful inside. Then went shopping in a local market.
Next we headed to Old town, or the Jewish Quarter. The area was also beautiful. There was a huge memorial for all the Polish Jews and others who perished during the Nazi regime. Sadly the old synagogue was closed that day so we did not get to go inside. The area was filled with traditional Polish and Jewish food, so we went into a place called “Hummus and Happiness.” (I know…dreams can come true) The hummus was so good!!
Next to headed to the famous Wawel Castle, which is a medieval castle built in the 12th century. It is just in the middle of an intersection, but it was gorgeous!
We then wanted to head back to get ready to go out for the night. We had taken a bus to the Jewish Quarter from the main square thanks to the help of a local college student who overheard us struggling. We thought that taking the same bus would take us back to the main square…we were wrong. Apparently we went on the wrong side of the street and the bus started to head outside of Krakow. (We were in the suburbs far away). Soon we were the last people on the bus and the bus driver said something to us in Polish, which was something to the extent of “get off the bus you idiots.” We headed out and luckily saw that the bus going into the city picked up across the street. No worries we made it back in one piece!
We signed up for a pub crawl through krakow. For the price of 50 PLN…or about $12…a guide took you from pub to pub and each pub gave you a free shot. Also the first hour at the first pub had unlimited drinks, any drink you wanted. (so I drank my usual gin and tonics) Yes I got my moneys worth and paid for it more the next morning when we had to get up and travel all day.
We headed back to the same breakfast place in the main square. Got bloody marys again and an incredible amount of breakfast food. We then did our last minute souvenir shopping and headed to a taxi to get to our bus.
The amount of traveling that day was exhausting:
1.Taxi to bus station in Krakow
2. Bus Krakow to Wroclaw (3 hours)
3. 1 hour layover in airport
4. Flight from Wroclaw to Dublin (2 hours)
5. Bus Dublin airport to Limerick (3 hours)
Yes, I am exhausted! We got back to the apartment around 2:30am.
It was my room mates birthday and weirdly most of my house was in Dublin for all different reasons. When we got to the airport we took a bus to the Temple Bar area and grabbed dinner and drink with our housemates before grabbing the bus back to Limerick. (Again it was exhausting!)
The fam jam is coming up on Friday and we are going to road trip around Ireland so more to come on that!